/ 29 March 2022

Another record high as 7.9-million people remain jobless in South Africa

Unemployed Men Wait For The Possibility Of A Piece Job. Photo Delwyn Verasamy
Unemployment epidemic: These men, gathered together to wait for the possibility of a piece job, are some of the 34.9% of South Africans who are without work, the highest figure among 82 countries monitored by business news agency Bloomberg. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

South Africa’s unemployment rate has hit yet another record high. For the fourth quarter of 2021 it came in at 35.3% of the labour force, the highest level since the start of the statistics agency’s quarterly labour force survey in 2008. 

The unemployment rate reached a previous record of 34.9% for the third quarter. 

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) data released on Tuesday showed that the number of unemployed people increased by 278 000 to 7.9-million in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to the third quarter.

Unemployment under the expanded definition, which also counts job seekers who have given up on the search for work, decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 46.2 % in the fourth quarter. 

The decrease is marked by the fact that people were available for work but did not actively look for work, according to Stats SA. 

Economists expected for the unemployment rate to rise to a record 35.1% in the fourth quarter of 2021. But the actual unemployment rate superseded their expectations. 

Formal sector employment increased by 143 000 jobs, but the informal sector shed 48 000 jobs.

According to the fourth-quarter unemployment data, the unemployment rate increased in all provinces save for Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. Mpumalanga was most severely hit shedding 51 000 jobs, followed by Limpopo, the Western Cape and the Free State. 

The country’s long-standing unemployment crisis has been further exacerbated by the advent of Covid-19 in 2020, which led the government to impose a national lockdown in response, initially shutting down all businesses save for essential services.

The fourth quarter was untouched by the July civil unrest — which swept through parts of the country’s two economic hubs, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, dealing a R50-billion knock to the economy — but the fallout was still felt economically. 

The Mail & Guardian previously reported how the Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told MPs that the effect of the violence was likely to burden the economy for the next six quarters, according to available research on the economic effects of the civil unrest.  

The previous four surveys have all recorded unemployment rates at the highest levels since 2008.

After a delay of more than a month (publication was initially scheduled for 22 February 2022), Stats SA cited “quality checks” as the reason for the postponement of the release of the data. 

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.